Some reading questions for chapter 5 of the Grapes of Wrath, and “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”


The “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” was written, primarily by the Marquis de Lafayette  in August of 1789, at the beginning of the French Revolution.   It is not to be confused with the 1793 version of the Declaration (which was written during the Revolution’s later and more radical phase), though I would argue that the two versions are not, for our purposes, all that different.  My main interest in this document has to do with how it compares with Hobbes’ conception of power.

(1) According to the “Declaration,” what is the purpose of political organization and society?  Is this stated purpose different from the one Hobbes identifies? 

(2) How does the “Declaration” define liberty?  Again, compare this definition to Hobbes.

(3) Who is identified as the “sovereign” in the “Declaration”?  What powers does the sovereign have?

(4) What role does violence play in the principles identified in the “Declaration”?

Regarding the Grapes of Wrath, let me first contextualize the assigned chapter a bit.  The consistently moves back and forth between telling the story of a specific family (known as the Joads) and more “general” chapters designed to highlight the ways in which the Joads’ experiences are but specific instances of a much broader phenomenon.  Chapter 5 is one of the more “general” chapters: none of the characters in this chapter, for instance, is given a name or any distinguishing characteristics.*  This mode of telling the story, I would suggest, is of great signficance.  It reinforces the general feeling that all of the characters are basically interchangeable–that none of the characters really control or even influence these circumstances.

In any case, once again, try to keep the big questions in mind: what sort of power is operating in this story?  Who (if anyone) can be said to possess it?  What effects does this power create?  But to get to these bigger issues, consider the following questions:

(1) How is the “Bank” depicted in this chapter?  What is the purpose or symbolic meaning of this depiction?

(2) Why does the family have to move off of the land?

(3) “The bank is something else than men.  It happens that every man in the bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it.”  What could this mean, and how could it be true?

(4) How is the tractor and its driver described?  E.g., what is he compared to?  How is the practice of farming (both how it was originally done by the family and how it will be done) described.  Identify the specific language.

(5) Given what you know from the story do you think that it is “just” for the family to be kicked off of the land?  Why or why not?

(6) Who is responsible for what is happening in this chapter?

(7) Given your answer to question (6), what does this tell us about the forms of power operating in this story and what (if anything) political action might do regarding them?

*The lone exception, of course, is the driver of the tractor, who is identified as being “Joe Davis’ boy.”  Part of the reason for this identification, I would argue, is that Steinbeck is also trying to demonstrate the ways in which the events he is depicting tears traditional communal ties asunder.


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